Dear Athenaeum Friends,

As a school child did you memorize Romantic poet William Wordsworth ’s famous poem, “ I wandered lonely as a cloud ”?
Those verses meandered through my mind all weekend for multiple reasons:

  1. We are globally grappling with one of the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic: the loneliness and solitude created by enforced social distancing
  2. April is National Poetry Awareness month and tomorrow marks William Wordsworth’s birthday (scroll down to April 7 to see more on the Athenaeum’s Wordsworth connection!)
  3. In the midst of sickness, anxiety, and social distancing, the Philadelphia region has gloriously burst forth into spring. In every yard in my suburb of Elkins Park (including my own), daffodils, tulips, forsythia, Magnolia and crab apple and other spring-bloomers are offering a magnificent show. 
The thoughts and concern of the Athenaeum staff remain focused on each of you, our members, neighbors, and friends. As you journey through this week, whether that includes jaunts outdoors for safe efforts at exercise, or remains within the confines of your home, include us in your thoughts as well. Please contact me if there are ways we can help you and our neighbors or updates in your own wellness ( ). 

We offer this week no distinct theme, although we will offer poetry links throughout April. However, we have for you streaming movies, interesting Athenaeum connections, photos, e-books, lectures, podcasts, and volunteer opportunities to help us through these difficult times. To begin, here are a few of the photos we have received from you all documenting our built environment and neighborhoods in the past few weeks. If you can safely take photos while maintaining social distance – the view from your windows or on your daily walks – send them in to us.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we need to understand the relevance of poetry for our upended days. In this brief podcast from the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf, poet Jennifer Nix shares how poetry helped her through a serious illness:

Today, we can also ready ourselves to fully appreciate the sublime genius of tomorrow’s birthday boy William Wordsworth (1770-1850), identified as a “genius” with “splendor . . . illumined lines” in an 1876 lecture reviewed by the New York Times

If you would prefer video, here is The History of Ideas: Romanticism, a lively, 9:43 minute introduction to the worldview that influenced poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge:

And for an accessible but meatier session, try Sir Jonathon Bates, Gresham College, lecture on “Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Poetic Revolution”:
April 7th marks the 250th birthday of the great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth. To mark the occasion, we present the very spectacles worn by Wordsworth, which presumably aided his writing of such enduring works as "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." The hand-written note accompanying the spectacles reads: 

These spectacles were owned and used by the poet Wordsworth - they were given by him to his faithful attendant James- who sold them to John Crosfield of Rotha Bank near Ambleside- Mr. Crosfield bought them for me knowing my wish to possess a memorial of the poet. Ellis Yarnall

Alexander Coxe Yarnall, grandson of Athenaeum member Ellis Yarnall, gave the spectacles to the Athenaeum in 1958. 

Curator Bruce Laverty has been doing some transcription during his hours at home: 

Curator’s Pick- by Bruce Laverty

Thomas U. Walter on Benjamin Henry Latrobe
One of the great guilty pleasures of being a curator of historical documents is getting to read (and share!) other people’s mail and diaries. These manuscripts give us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of famous and ordinary figures alike. Architect Thomas U. Walter, whose papers are in the most important 19 th century archive at the Athenaeum, confided to his diaries positive and negative remarks that reveal as much about him as about his subject. On a trip to Baltimore in 1835, he recorded his negative impressions of that city’s iconic Cathedral and immediately followed up with an glowing assessment of the building’s late architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Thomas Ustick Walter Diary Entry

Feb 22, 1835, Walter Collection, Athenaeum of Philadelphia

“Went to the Cathedral this afternoon, this Church would be an ornament to Baltimore if finished --- the whole interior is vaulted with bricks---the plan is in the form of a Latin cross---the square formed by the intersection is crowned by a magnificent dome, the organ Is placed in one end of the transept and the children’s gallery in the other---the chancel is placed in the east end and the nave is occupied by pews The altar, sanctuary etc. are formed of marble of various colours, but chiefly of Italian, the verde-antique composes a considerable part.

  I think that the church is one of Mr. Latrobe’s worst efforts, it bears the mark of a great mind and contains many architectural gems, but if one so infinitely beneath Mr. Latrobe in every respect, may be permitted to give an opinion, I would say that this church is a failure.

[At this point, Walter oddly finds it necessary, even in the privacy of his own diary, to balance his panning of the building, with a lavish and affectionate testimonial to Latrobe’s importance to American architecture.]  

Mr. Latrobe may be emphatically termed, the Architectural Father of America ---he had to contend with difficulties of every character, except inability in himself---money was scarce---the people were tasteless---materials such as were suitable for building were at that time unattainable, except at a heavy expense---and to crown his difficulties he “was a foreigner” in other words, he had the honour of being born in a country far superior to ours in point of intellectual attainments. If he possessed no other known merit, than that of being a Frenchman, this should have been enough to recommend him to every thinking man----can a country but 2 or 3 centuries old compete in intellectual acquirements with a nation boasting of her years by thousands? The thought is truly simple. 

Mr. Latrobe has left monuments of his talent that will bear his name with high enconiums to ages yet unborn---his Pennsylvania Bank at Philadelphia is excellent---that building may be termed the foundation of Grecian Architecture in Philadelphia---- His works at Washington are marked with peculiar excellence of architectural character---in short, every city in the Union of any note owes their all in architecture to Mr. Latrobe---I love his memory. 

To learn more about Walter and Latrobe check PAB:

We are over the hump of the week and looking toward the weekend. Settle in with some streaming movie selections from our beloved Carrie Rickey . She offers us five great films about real women and links to where to stream them:

MARIE CURIE, The Courage of Knowledge: A 1942 film about Marie Curie starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon 

BELLES ON THEIR TOES:  A 1952 comedy about efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth, single mom of 12, starring screen great Myrna Loy  

HIDDEN FIGURES:   2016 film about NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson helps chart Apollo Mission 

BELLE:  In this award-winning drama, 18th Century biracial beauty adopted by her great-uncle, helps him fight racism in Britain  

I, THE WORST OF ALL:  A 1990 film about Sister Juana de la Cruz, poet, mathematician and philosopher, tries to counter Spanish authority in Counter-reformation Mexico 
FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 2020

Jim Carroll is the imaging specialist in the Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center . He has developed relationships with many talented area artists and is helping to bring their work to all of us through special First Friday Pop-Up Artist Galleries at the Athenaeum. This month, we were to feature one of these artists. Jim shares her work with you here:

“As I sit with my coffee in my newly assembled home office, week three, I find myself trying to navigate a new way of living, working and connecting with the world around me. I cannot stop thinking of our members, both the Athenaeum and Regional Digital Imaging Center members. More specifically as we approach First Friday, our Artists. On Friday April 3, 2020, Michele Foster Lucas , a talented artist and one of the RDIC’s earliest customers (12 years using RDIC services), was set to exhibit her wide range of Artwork, styles and mediums. It’s truly disappointing to lose an opportunity to share some beautiful and thought-provoking artwork with our friends and the folks that support us at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. But, you can still take a moment to check out Michele’s artwork by visiting her website at and if you see something you like, maybe sending some support to our local artist, whose income has been greatly affected by this outbreak. This we can do from the safety of our homes, as we all do our best to end this health crisis.”

Are you shut off from your normal volunteer activities? Did Bruce’s transcription work intrigue you? The Athenaeum has been central to a marvelous digitization effort in Philadelphia which is now seeking volunteers to help transcribe the records. Here is the invitation from the project lead Carol Smith. Please email her at if you would like to volunteer.

Help Transcribe the Records of our Past

Are you bored at home and looking for something different to challenge your mind? Escape into the 18th century and help us transcribe some early Philadelphia church records. While we'd love to have you focus on the baptismal, marriage, burial, circumcision records, we're happy to have you tackle any that pique your interest. Sometimes it's good to remember that our ancestors too lived through uncertain times. 

This is a project of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Digitizing Hidden Collections funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which provided for the scanning of more than 40,000 documents from 11 of Philadelphia's earliest congregations. The Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center is digitizing the documents. They are already being used by researchers and genealogists but will be of even greater use if we can transcribe them and make them searchable. The records are on one unified website:  

Instructions on how to begin can be found on the top menu under Help Transcribe >Getting Started with Transcribing. All work is done online and immediately visible. 

Help is also available from those of us closely involved in the project so please email me if you have any questions or run into any problems. Thank you so much for any help you can provide!
We hope that these little offerings help you through your week. I invite you to send your annual dues in and consider making a contribution ( online preferred as we are still working with the USPS to get our mail delivered to my home!) as you are able. We continue to provide for our staff and care for our National Historic Landmark building even though we are closed to the public. Your support helps us to do so as we work toward a healthy new day when we can meet again.

I leave you with this offering from Wordsworth, an invitation to find solace and hope wherever life places us:

Wishing you all health, hope, and happiness,
Beth Hessel
Executive Director